‘Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks’ by Claire Cook is a funny but tender story of relationships and dogs…and cats

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In “Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks” by Claire Cook, Sarah Hurlihy and John Anderson might be living together in her family’s home, but that doesn’t mean that Valentine’s Day is going to be a simple affair. Between Sarah’s indecisiveness and John’s romantic streak, Sarah’s crazy family and crazier father, and all the dogs and cats ruling their house, life is hectic, to say the least.

Sarah’s biggest problem is her insecurity when it comes to romance. In the classroom, she’s a rockstar and can think of activities and make up songs to entertain her students (and their parents) forever. But ask her to run away to Mexico and elope and all bets are off. Sarah frets about the divorce rate. She frets about having a baby. She frets that once she and John get married, things will start to go wrong.

Cook gets it right as she narrates Sarah’s day dealing with the cats and dogs at the Hurlihy mansion, which John and Sarah bought from her father, who still resides in his “man cave” built for him in part of the house. There is also Polly, an assistant at the preschool who moved in with John and Sarah during her pregnancy, and whom Sarah’s father has proposed to many times in vain.

As Sarah and the other teachers try to come up with ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day without candy or even Valentine’s Day cards (as directed by the preschool director), a mystery visitor is leaving candy hearts with messages on them at Sarah’s classroom door. It’s not John, so who is her mystery admirer — or is it Polly’s mystery admirer?

With Cook’s fabulous sense of humor, her touching insight into human frailties, and her realistic peek into the preschool classroom of a private school where parents vie to outdo the others in anything that is going on, readers will by turn laugh, smile, and even get teary-eyed as they once again visit with Sarah and the Hurlihy clan. There’s never a dull moment.

And while this is Book 7 in the “Must Love Dog” series that began with the novel that was made into the classic movie with John Cusack, Diane Lane, Dermot Mulroney, and Christopher Plummer (!), any time is a good time to visit with this collection of characters. Start with this book and then go back and read the rest. Or buy them all and work your way through them. Either way, a visit to the Hurlihy house should be on your reading agenda!

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

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